Neal Whitman blogs at Literal-Minded, where he writes about linguistics in everyday life from the point of view of a husband and father. He taught English as a second language while earning his degree at Ohio State University; has published articles in Language, Journal of Linguistics, and other publications; and writes occasional scripts for the podcast "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing."
When I recently heard a news reporter say that "China doesn't want a failed nuclear state on their doorstep," I was taken by surprise. Did China seriously want North Korea to succeed in their nuclear ambitions? Continue reading...
With what advertisers are coyly calling the "big game" looming this weekend, I decided it was time to follow up on a feeling that had been growing on me for a while: That I was hearing more and more people using super as an intensifier for adjectives, as in "I'm super excited!" Continue reading...
Topics: Language Usage Words
It's been a while since I've written a column for this space, and in large part the hiatus has been due to my (successful) campaign for a seat on my local school board. Or board of education. Which is it? Is there a difference? Continue reading...
Topics: Language Usage Words
This week's publication of Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee's long-dormant sequel of sorts to To Kill a Mockingbird, has gotten a tune running through my head: "Go Tell Aunt Rhody." Two titles, same number of syllables, and the same syntactic structure, right down to the use of go plus another verb right next to it. But how do both those verbs fit into the place where just one verb should go? Continue reading...
When the Academy Awards were given out last month, entertainment news was full of commentary about which movies, directors and performers should have been nominated but weren't—who got snubbed by those snobs in the Academy. That made me wonder if snub and snob were etymologically related. Continue reading...
Over the weekend, The New York Times presented an interactive quiz on newly prominent slang terms entitled "Are You On Fleek?" But what does "on fleek" mean, and how did it get to be such a trendy expression, especially on social media? Our resident linguist Neal Whitman investigates. Continue reading...
Tradecraft, which has been spy jargon since at least the 1960s, has been making its way into more mainstream consciousness recently, as we hear about operations like the search for Osama bin Laden, or about Edward Snowden's training as a spy. It's a good example of how words with seemingly transparent meanings can settle into semantic idiosyncrasy through historical circumstance. Continue reading...
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